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How to Install Tire Chains

A tire outfitted with tire chains.

Even with a set of winter tires on your car, driving through certain national parks or crossing mountainous terrain may require tire chains. Learning how to install tire chains takes a little practice to avoid common issues, like buying chains that are the wrong size for your car. Here’s a quick guide to installing tire chains and getting the job done right.

When Tire Chains Are NecessaryWinter driving deep snow

You may have invested in a set of winter tires for the season, thinking that they’re sufficient. In some cases, however, they are not — especially where road regulations and treacherous conditions come in.

If you live in California, Colorado, Neveda, Oregon, or Washington you may be required to have snow chains to travel some roads during winter. Indeed, if you take certain roads in the Sierra Nevada, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) may require you to install car or truck tire chains before permitting you to continue on your journey. Caltrans puts such requirements in place when the roads are covered in packed-down snow, as only chains supply the grip necessary to safely traverse the terrain.

Choosing the Right Tire Chains

If you don’t yet have tire chains for your car, you’ll need to shop for them. Tire chains for snow are designed for specific tire sizes — you don’t want to deflate your tires, possibly damaging them to make the chains fit. Make sure to check your owner’s manual for any specific information about tire chain use or type. This also means making sure there is enough clearance around the tire for the tire chains. You will need to verify that your installed tire and wheel package is compatible with tire chain usage.

NAPA spoke with two tire safety experts, who explained: “There should be, on average, a minimum of 12 chains crossing the tire. Before your journey, take time to learn how to install snow chains and remove them again efficiently by following the manufacturer recommendations.” The best time to practice installing snow chains is before you need them, so pick a nice day when you can take your time to learn the process. That way you aren’t fumbling in the freezing cold facing what looks like a chain puzzle.

How to Install Tire Chains in 6 Steps

Tire chains (or cables) go on when road conditions warrant them. It is also a good idea to install tire chains once you cross into an area where they are needed rather than waiting to get stuck. Once you’ve reached clear pavement or terrain, where chains are no longer required, pull over and remove the chains.

Here’s a step-by-step look at the installation process:

  1. If you only have a pair of chains, always install them on the drive wheels. For maximum handling and traction, install tire chains on all four wheels. If you have an AWD vehicle and only one pair of chains, put them on the front wheels.
  2. Beginning with your first tire, unroll and untangle the chain, then lay it on the ground with the hook ends facing the ground.
  3. Place the chain behind the tire, then pull it up and over the tire with both hands, fastening both chain ends together.
  4. Hold the chains on both sides of the tire and draw them together at the middle of the tire. Hook the fastener to a link, ensuring a tight fit.
  5. Pull the chain up and lay it on top of the tire for a loose fit.
  6. At the base of the tire, find the fastener and draw chain and pull both toward you.
  7. Pull the chain around the opener on the fastener. Pull tightly and lock a link into the notch on the fastener.
  8. Feed the draw chain through the rings, stretching and tightening before hooking it to a side chain link.
  9. Repeat these steps on the remaining wheels, then drive the vehicle forward by at least 15 feet. Finally, stop and check if belts are tight, and adjust as needed.
  10. Once the tire chains are installed keep an ear out for any sounds that might indicate any contact with the vehicle body or suspension. If you hear any clicking or ticking noises stop immediately and remove the tire chains.

Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on your particular set of chains. Manufacturer instructions may vary, so follow them over these steps, which are general guidelines.

Once your chains are installed, accelerate and decelerate with care as traction will still be limited. To avoid potential damage to the tire chains or your vehicle never exceed 30 mph, and avoid spinning or locking the wheels. If one breaks, repair or replace the tire chain immediately. Lastly, warn tire experts, avoid using snow chains for an extended time on bare pavement to prevent potential damage to both the tires and snow chains.

Check out all the tire and wheel accessories available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on tire chains for trucks, cars or SUVs chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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